Why Have a Hen go Broody?
Why would I want my hen to go broody? Here are 3 reasons to make a hen broody:
- Maybe you want to hatch eggs yourself – have momma hen sit on the eggs. That way you do not need to raise chicks in your house/garage. You would not need a heated lamp, or worry about integrating the new chicks in with the flock. You also would not need to purchase an incubator (or brooder).
- Having a hen hatch eggs makes your chicken ‘business’ more self-sufficient. A hell of a lot cheaper.
- Another reason to make a hen go broody is for a surrogate mother – to eliminate the brooder and introduction to the flock. You can have a broody hen take care of day-old chicks you buy from the feed store or online. It makes your life a heck of a lot easier and to be honest… I plan on doing this ALWAYS.
So why doesn’t everyone do this? Listed below are 4 reasons to break a broody hen.
- No Roo. Well, having a hen hatch eggs means you need either a rooster or fertilized eggs. Many people cannot have roosters – for a multitude of reasons.
- Pullet:Cockerel Ratio. Hatching your own eggs means each egg has a 50% chance of being a cockerel. You may not want or need or have room for this many roosters, which means you have to sell (give away) or cull the birds. Neither of which are fun.
- No Broody Hens. Many hens no longer have strong brooding instincts. When a hen is broody, she cannot lay eggs for quite a few months. One week for collecting eggs, three weeks for sitting on eggs and many weeks for when she is raising the chicks.
- Lack of knowledge. Knowledge is power. If you do not know you can have a hen raise chicks (even without a rooster, I mean…. I had no idea?!) instead of an expensive brooder, then you don’t know. You only know whatcha know, ya know?
Sorry. I might have lost you.
Let’s back up here…
What is a Broody Hen?
Broody hens are feeding their maternal instinct to hatch eggs and raise chicks.
She has an instinct to protect her eggs to keep them warm. Her body stops laying eggs and stores her food and feces to allow her to only eat and poop once per day (maybe a little more).
Broody hens are usually broody for a month – normally she will collect eggs for 1 wk and then sit for 3 weeks.
If her hatch is unsuccessful (due to lack of rooster, or maybe she is just inexperienced) she should break her broodiness naturally after this month.
Below are ways to encourage a hen to break broodiness.
Signs of a Broody Hen.
- Sitting on eggs for long periods of time
- Sitting in an empty nesting box for long periods of time
- Squawking when you go near her
- Sits in nest when others roost
- May peck you if you get too close
Basically if she is committed to her nest and ornery with the world – she’s probably broody.
My hen looks at me like a woman in labor looks at the father of the unborn child – YOU DID THIS TO ME!!
How to Break a Broody Hen.
Broody hens are on a mission. I tell ya what.
It takes me quite some time – maybe a week – to break a broody hen. Some are easier than others.
- To keep a hen from going broody, collect eggs daily and allow the hens room to roam – whether it be a run or free-range. I feel hens go broody out of boredom sometimes.
- First I try to remove her from the nesting box and put her on the ground. With some hens, if you do this a few times a day she will break in a day or two. She will be so annoyed with you she will forget she was broody.
- If that does not work, I try blocking her box. I have two rows of nesting boxes and each row has a roosting bar that folds up. I fold up the bar to block her favorite box. This USUALLY breaks the hen.
If these first two options do not break her – you have one of two options left.
- Put her in chicken jail (Rubbermaid or dog kennel) for 3 days with no nesting box, just food and water. That SHOULD break her. When you can reach her without her pecking you, she is broken… for now.
- The second option is to buy some baby chicks and introduce them to her. Place the babies near her in the nest and see if she accepts them. She will go to instant-mother mode and no longer be broody.
Okay, How do I get myself a Broody Hen?
Start with a Broody Breed.
Upon some research, these are common hens that are known for broodiness. In my opinion, take this all with a grain of salt because I own two of these breeds and neither of them have ever been broody. My two signature broody hens are a Wyandotte and a RIR/Easter Egger Mix. Broodiness is in the personality.
If you’ve had chickens for any amount of time – you’ll know which of your hens can go broody fairly easily. My Wyandotte (Big Red) is my go-to broody Mama. Every spring she is bound to go broody. Almost guaranteed.
My dad has Australorps and multiple times a year he has a hen disappear to hatch a clutch of eggs and reappears with the babes. The Australorps also make good mother’s in this case.
I would recommend getting to know your flock – you can see the designated momma of the group. If you’re starting your flock and want a greater chance of hatching eggs, get one (or a few) of the breeds listed above.
Time of Year.
I find that chickens tend to go broody in spring. Isn’t that the way of nature? Babies in spring.
I tried to get my girl to go broody when it was warming up and dammit she wouldn’t! What gives?! Well… the next week it was bitter cold. I am convinced she knew! The day after the storms it warmed up and dammit anyway she went broody. Smart little momma.
So pick the time of year when it is warm – but probably not too hot. Spring is the most ideal time – after the last frost.
Remember, she will be broody for 21 days (the time it takes to hatch eggs).
Get eggs, faux eggs, golf balls, smooth rocks, anything that maybe could represent an egg to a chicken brain. Chickens is so dumb. Ferreal.
Put some round objects in a nesting box (8-12) and let them beg the hens to sit on them. The hens might lay their eggs in there, you can collect them. That’s fine.
Just let the objects taunt the hens.
It took Big Red all of about a week to ten days to take the bait.
I was uncultured and left real eggs in the nest and for 21 days I panicked that she would sit on bad eggs because the eggs she was hatching sat for a week. Don’t be like me. The 21 days are going to be agonizing enough. Spoiler alert: she hatched 11 of 12 eggs.
While you wait for the bait to take, buy fertilized eggs, place an order of chicks, or collect fertilized eggs from your flock.
If you choose to collect eggs from your flock, store them small end down in a COOL area. Mine stayed in the coop during the month of April – highs were 40-50, lows were 20s. Flip your eggs daily, or so I’m told.
Once she takes the bait you will know. Go back up and read the signs of a broody hen. Mostly look for – does she squawk when you enter the coop? Does she peck you when you get too close? If yes, you have a WINNER!
I Have a Broody Hen, Now What?
Lots of Straw.
She will be in that box for 21 days, so get her comfy. Plus this will keep the eggs insulated and warm when she has to take care of business – poop, eat & stretch her legs.
She will probably pluck her feathers to put in her box and keep her eggs warm from her bare chest.
You may also put herbs in the box to keep bugs out, keep her calm and relaxed. Lavender, thyme, mint, yarrow, dill, catnip – they are all good additions for that broody mama.
She Left the Nest?!!!?!
Yes she did. Momma had to poop y’all, and maybe eat a few bugs. She also is sitting in a box that could easily get infected with mites so she probably needed to bathe in the dust.
Sometimes we need a moment, okayyyy? Give us moms a break! Haha okay. Sorry, not a mom blog. I digress…
Broody hens leave their boxes a few times a day MAX. The only suggestion I would make is to make sure she goes back to her own box.
Sometimes hens go back to the wrong box. Remember, I told you: chickens is so dumb.
My broody hen left her box and sat on ONE egg when her box had 14 eggs. How do you mix them up?!
I gently lifted her out and put her back on her eggs. She loved it. NOT. She was NOT HAPPY. But she stayed there once I put her back on HER nest.
I think in the beginning she left her nest for a few hours, then in the middle it was for maybe 30 min a day. At the end she took a few longer stretches. Just trust her, she should know what she can and can’t do.
When it is close to hatch day she probably will not leave her nest at all. Like really. She might even get extra ornery just looking at you.
NOTE: When momma hen is hatching, be sure to keep her with food and water. If she is too hungry she will probably peck at her chicks. I hadn’t thought of this until 24hrs in and when I finally put food and water out, she devoured it. I hadn’t thought of this because she wouldn’t eat while she was nesting, so why would she eat now? Well because it has been 24hrs!
If her hatch is successful – she will not lay eggs until her chicks are independent. She will be teaching the chicks to eat and drink. She will also be teaching them to forage for bugs at a much earlier age than hatchery chicks.
If you keep the hen integrated with the flock, she will introduce the chicks to the flock at a much earlier age than if you got chicks from a hatchery.
Giving the momma hen the option to keep the babies safe is ideal. Some roosters or jealous hens might pick on the babies. I like to keep a crate in the coop so the momma can bring her babies to safety, but also the rest of the flock is aware of what she is doing. When momma decides to introduce the chicks to the flock, it is a smooth transition.
Seriously – if I ever buy chicks from the feed store again, I am DEFINITELY making a hen go broody to pop the chicks under her vs. jacking up my heat bill and having my laundry room smell like a chicken coop. Plus I won’t have to worry about the chicks – momma hen does it all! Just the way nature intended.
Have you ever hatched your own eggs? On purpose or accident? What stories do you have about a surrogate momma hen? Comment below!
If you ever have any questions, or ideas for future blogs, comment below or shoot me an email!
From the farm,